‘No more minyans’: Leading haredi rabbi rules out prayer groups of 10 during health crisis

Leader of ultra-Orthodox joins fight against the coronavirus as rate of illness soars in sector where quarantines are being considered.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, the leader of the Ashkenazic ultra-Orthodox world, reversed an earlier religious ruling Sunday and ordered his followers to pray in private from now on, due to the dangers of catching the coronavirus.

This landmark decision goes even further than the current Health Ministry guidelines, which allow outdoor prayer quora (“minyanim” in Hebrew) of 10 men as long as they keep two meters apart. It comes on the heels of widespread reports of the higher than average per capita rates of infection among hareidi citizens.

Channel 12 News reported Sunday night that the ultra-Orthodox make up 40 to 60 percent of corona cases in large hospitals such as Shaare Zedek and Hadassah-University Medical Center in Jerusalem, and Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan. These hospitals are very close to haredi centers such as the Geula and Meah She’arim neighborhoods of the capital, and the city of Bnei Brak near Tel Aviv.

The Health Ministry believes that the large numbers stem from the fact that observation of the rules requiring self-isolation and forbidding large gatherings have been more lax in the haredi sector than in others.

The well-respected rabbi answered other questions related to the pandemic and Jewish law (“halacha”) that might shock his followers into realizing the seriousness of the disease. He said that whoever disobeys the health guidelines is deemed a rodef, one who endangers the life of his fellow man. As such, it is not only allowed to report such a person to the authorities, it is a requirement.

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He went so far as to say that if someone downplays a doctor’s orders regarding the sick (such as leaving isolation), and another person dies as a result of the laxity, he would be considered “close” to being a murderer.

While speaking on the phone on the Sabbath is generally against Jewish law, Rabbi Kanievsky also ruled that anyone who is waiting for the results of a coronavirus test must answer it because it is a matter of life and death, which overrides the sanctity of the day.

Finance Ministry Director-General Shai Babad told the Knesset committee handling the coronavirus on Sunday that the government is considering whether to impose a closure on certain haredi communities in an effort to stop the contagion.